What is my goal, as an illustrator? Am I just drawing pretty pictures, or is there something more? When a child opens my books, what do I want him to feel?
Maurice Sendak said:
“Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”
I want my drawings to be edible. I mean, I want them to be so vibrant, ring so true, look so delicious, that you just linger, and maybe want to put them in your belly and carry them around.
I feel this way about certain illustrations from my childhood — they actually feel like a part of me, and most certainly informed my own illustrative style. It’s in the intense detail of R. W. Alley’s Busy People All Around Town as his characters run shops, coach gym, milk cows, and gas up their cars in millimeter-high detail. I spent hours pretending I was certain characters, living my day as they would, choosing the red Ferrari one day and living in the trailer park the next. One day I owned the violin shop, and the next I was scavenging car parts in the junk yard. I would put my finger on those tiny characters, trace my finger up and down roads, in and out of jobs and lives. But I always ended up as the painter in the loft above the park, doodling away.
It turns out, I am that painter. I made it so. I know it’s cliché, but what children’s books do is absolute magic. They are the vehicles in which children imagine all sorts of possibilities and paths. Through these drawings – these palpable, delicious, dancing drawings – I imagined myself in a million shoes, but settled on the artist. And maybe someday, if I’m lucky, a little kid will want to eat my art too.